What happens to a marriage when an 80s metal band moves in? Brenda Dunkirk will find out that it is impossible to be one man’s wife and another man’s muse.
Can the act of mailing a fan letter change a life? Brenda didn’t think so. She also didn’t think 80s metal star Keith Kutter would have actually read her letter. Watching him stand in the rain on her patio and compose a new song is something she never imagined.
Brenda thinks she’s the luckiest woman in the world when Keith’s band, Hydra, and their entourage declares her home as their base camp while recording their comeback album. She fantasizes about late night lyric writing sessions at her kitchen table and being the first one to hear all the new songs. She is confident that with her help the band will get back on top where they belong. Swept up in the glamour of being the rock and roll muse, Brenda risks her already faltering marriage. Tim, her husband, walks out on her and Hydra’s chaos, and to make matters worse her boss is threatening to fire her if she doesn’t her act together at work. The band will not leave until the album is done–it could be another month or it could be another year.
Ultimately Brenda must choose between the secure contentment of her marriage or the allure of rock and roll.
Targeted Age Group:: 30-50
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was inspired to write this book after wondering what happened to all those one-hit wonders from the 80s. I imagined an uncomfortable meeting in a conference room where the band was told that they are out of money, and that the listening public has moved on. Then I imagined long haired metal guys winding their way through cubicles at some corporation and trying to cope with not being famous anymore.
Then I asked, what if a band was in that situation and refused that fate. I decided that Hydra would try to get their popularity back, and then my story unearthed from the wreckage of the band’s demise.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I am a rock and roll memoir junkie. My band mates are a combination of a few rock and roll memoirs I’ve read to date. I decided that my main character, Brenda, would be someone whose life has gotten away from her. Her husband cannot commit to starting a family, she’s waiting for a big promotion at work, her mother in law despises her and randomly redecorates Brenda’s house to her taste. Brenda isn’t making choices for herself, so in this story she gets her voice back through being a rock and roll muse.
I wait as Keith watches a hummingbird drink from one of Tim’s feeders. He runs his hands through his wavy hair and tucks it behind his ears. “They are such beautiful creatures,” he says before turning to face me. Really? We’re out here to talk about the birds? I resist the urge to look back at Tim through the window, and try to be patient. “Brenda, I heard you talking about my lyrics a week ago, and I think you’re spot on with what you’d said. I appreciate your honesty, and would like to impose on it one more time.”
“Sure,” I say cautiously. Usually when people ask for honesty, they really don’t mean it. I wonder if this is a moment where I am supposed to be an adoring fan, or if I am really supposed to be honest.
“What do you think of me?” he asks.
Oh, boy. What a loaded question. Is he going to next ask me if he looks fat? “What do you mean?”
“I mean, what is your impression of me as a person?”
“Why do you want to know?” I figure this is a good question to ask; I can formulate a more tactful response if I know why he’s asking me.
“According to market research, I am distant and unapproachable. A cold fish.”
I pause to collect my thoughts. He’s not completely clueless, apparently. He’s probably read the nasty things that people have been saying about him online, and I’m sure it’s hurt his feelings on some level. But to get that report in a formal market research study? Ouch! Poor guy. No wonder he mopes around the house all the time. Anyone would, right? I wonder what else the market research has said about him. I wish I could see it all and formulate a more thoughtful response. I need to stop thinking like a publicist, though, and start thinking like a friend. I really don’t know what he expects out of this conversation. Yeah, I suppose I could go all the way and tell him exactly what I think. I look over my shoulder; Tim’s still in his meeting. How much time do I have?
When I imagined giving the band my opinion, I never thought I’d be telling Keith what I honestly thought of him. But he did open the door, right?
“Why are you asking me now? Is it because of what I’d said that day? I’m sorry if I was insensitive,” I blurt out. Now I’m not sure where I’m taking this conversation. I hate talking when I feel unprepared. The last thing I want to do is hurt this man’s feelings after all he’s been through.
“I have made a career out of trying to produce the best music and to pack arenas year after year. But recently I’ve learned that the music is not enough. I have learned that listeners want to like the people who write the music, too. I am trying to get a sense of whether I am even likeable or not. You are a listener; now’s your chance to tell me what you think. Bring it.” He laughs a little bit, but then regains his composure. He leans against the railing of the deck and gazes over Tent City. I’ve noticed he spends a lot of time with that far off look in his eyes, and I wonder if it’s because he’s a creative person and he’s constantly trying to keep himself open to whatever stray idea pops into his head. Or is it that he never wants to be in social situations? I’m still not sure exactly what I should say to ‘bring it.’ Does he even want me to bring it at all? Yes, his job is to produce the best music possible, but I still don’t think he really cares about his ability to be liked.
“You know,” he says, “I have read my reviews on amazon.com, and I’ve seen the hashtag KutKeith trend when they’d thought I went missing last month. I am not completely blind.” He pauses. “…And I know that there are a lot of people who do not like me. I would like to change that somehow.” I wonder why, exactly, he wants to change that. Is it because he genuinely wants people to like him, or do they need to just like him enough so he can sell more tickets. Maybe he’s focusing on what I’d said about making more of an effort with Damien. This probably isn’t really about his fans. Could it be about his family? I can tell he feels sad and lost without his wife and son. I know I would be devastated if Tim weren’t in my life anymore.
The sun is grazing the tree line of the forest behind the house, and the clouds glow orange. He looks up at the clouds to take it all in, but I notice the tension in his hands. He is bracing himself against the railing as he waits for my response. “You’ve made a career of making other people likeable, right? Isn’t that what PR is all about?” He pauses again. “So, pretend I am a client. What is your impression of me?” In all my years working in PR, I don’t think I’ve ever had a client ask me that question. Usually it’s the case that I have to butter up to my clients and tell them I like them first, and then I have to make other people like them. They don’t actually care about what I, personally, think about them.
“Well,” I chew my lip. “If we’re being completely honest here, I am sure you’re a nice guy, but I kinda think you act like an asshole.” I wince after I say it. It’s probably one of the meaner things I’ve ever said to anyone, especially if he’s trying to become more likeable. It’s one thing to joke and call someone an asshole; it’s entirely another to be serious about it. But it does feel a bit of a relief to actually say it out loud. I’ve watched him sulk and brood around my house since he got here. I have, kind of, wanted to tell him to get over himself. Maybe I should. After all, he did ask.
“So long as you’re not holding anything back,” he says, and laughs, but his grip on the rail is still tight. He’s obviously tense; this is probably a hard conversation for him, as well. “Tamsen thought I was an asshole too. She told me so when we first met. I fell in love with her right away.” He stares off at something across the back yard. A faint smile hangs on his lips; he’s probably remembering. Then he turns to me. “She thought I was an asshole because we’d just signed our first record deal and we were out celebrating. I was drunk, and trying to get her to come home with me. I can see why she’d thought so at the time, but I want to know why you think I act like one now?”
“Are you sure you want to know?” I ask. He nods, but doesn’t face me.
“You come off as an asshole because people can’t relate to you. Remember how awkward that dinner at the Stone Yacht Club was at first? You don’t do well with meeting new people and making them feel comfortable with you. You’re all about what people can do for you, and not necessarily what you can do for them.” I pause, and he nods. “You’ve lost touch with how life really is. When you met Tamsen, you were a 20-something guy who was on the verge of becoming a big star, and you were trying to score. Of course you’re going to look like an asshole in that situation. But you should have grown up since then. And you didn’t. You were wildly successful and played in arenas packed with screaming fans that loved you. You have handlers that cater to your every whim. You have every privilege…”
“I worked hard for those privileges,” he interrupts.
“Yes, you did. But you also took advantage of them. Did you think that nothing would happen when you got behind the wheel after that barbeque? Did you think at the time that if you got pulled over they’d let you go because you’re Keith Kutter?”
I wait for him to respond. He pauses and then slowly nods in response, and I know it’s an unguarded moment of honesty. “Then that’s what makes you an asshole, Keith. You should have been thrown in jail. Anyone else would have. Getting behind the wheel after drinking is the ultimate act of selfishness. You don’t care what happens, so long as you had your good time, right?”
He leans against the deck railing and holds his face in his hands.
“Is that all?” he asks.
“No,” I continue. He flinches. Should I continue? Oh, well, he is the one who asked. Might as well go all the way. “I can’t decide if you just look like an asshole, or if you actually are one. After the accident, you spent your life perpetually high because you’d paralyzed your son. You left Tamsen to deal with that situation, which I am sure was damned hard on her. She had to deal with the sudden paralysis of her child. That’s not the behavior of a supportive partner. That’s classic asshole behavior. What the hell were you thinking? That everyone would understand because you’re Keith Kutter?”
“You have no idea what it’s like,” he hisses.
“You’re right; I have no idea what it’s like to almost kill my family and expect to walk away from the fallout. I don’t know what it’s like to have the world handed to me just because I’m famous. And I certainly don’t know what it’s like to take off on my yacht to escape it all and leave my mess for someone else to clean up.”
“So, what do I need to do so people like you don’t think I am an asshole?”
“Well, for starters you need to get over yourself. I know you’ve had so much tragedy. But you’ve caused all of it. Do you claim any responsibility for it?”
“Really? How? As far as I can see, you’ve decided to get over it by scoring with a bunch of hookers and passing out drunk on my couch. And then you pissed on my mother-in-law’s car. What are you? A dog? I mean, you’re a guest in my home, Keith. You are a grown man. You have been the worst house guest ever.” I am really on a roll now. I didn’t realize how affected I’d been by having him and the band stay here. Maybe it’s starting to get on my nerves more than I’d realized, because I am really letting it fly now. Honestly, it’s a relief to get this all out. I need to stop and catch my breath for a moment.
“OK, first of all, your mother-in-law was screeching at me and smacking me with that purse. What the hell does she keep in there? A brick?”
“I can’t defend Portia’s outburst,” I say. I shouldn’t have to. Who the hell gives her the right to storm into my house and assault my guest? “I am sorry that happened, and I am sorry I was a bit harsh with you right now. But Keith, since you’ve been here, you’ve only been in three states: drunk, passed out, or brooding. Do you really want to live like that?”
He’s staring at me. Is this seriously a question for him? He wants to live a miserable life?
“So, what do I need to do?” he asks. “How do I fix this asshole persona I project?” I can tell that I went way deeper than he’d expected. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Did I just hurt his feelings? Maybe I should dial it back a bit, focus on being more clinical than emotional.
I kick into public relations specialist mode. “Well, for starters, your public is demanding an explanation. They think you are a spoiled brat for the way you behaved after the accident, and that is bad for your image. You have done nothing to convince them otherwise.” I pause, and he rolls his eyes a bit. “Hey, you asked me for my opinion and I am giving it to you. I have nothing to gain by being dishonest with you. If you don’t like it, then go back inside and back to brooding over your life.” I am still being harsh; he looks stricken. But he asked me to be honest, right? I take a breath; I need to slow down a bit. “What is it that you want, Keith?”
He answers me with a brief silence as he thinks about it. I wonder if anyone’s asked him this question since things ended with Tamsen. “I want to enjoy my life again, he says, finally. “I know that things are over with Tamsen, and I accept that. But I want to have someone in my life. I want to feel that connection again.” He paces a bit; when he stops, I realize he is standing closer. I try to back off a bit, but the railing on the deck is digging into the small of my back. “I feel like I can talk to you about anything, and you won’t let me get away with being dishonest about anything. Nobody in my life does that for me, not even my mother. I’ve been missing that in my life.” I’m sure this honest conversation is very intimate for Keith; but now I’m not sure how I feel about standing this close to him. On one hand, it is pretty exciting, I admit. His eyes are trained on mine; he’s staring intently at me. Maybe Tim was right. Maybe Keith had been looking at me like I am a piece of meat. I reach down and pull up my tank top. But honestly, I don’t really want to cover myself up in this moment. And I know it’s so wrong to feel this way. My heart is pounding; I never thought I’d ever again experience a first kiss. I feel an almost electric current in the air as I face Keith, who has now moved even closer to me. On the other hand, what I should do is say something like how he’s taking advantage of the situation, and showing his asshole tendencies again. But I don’t. I just stand there, probably with my mouth hanging open.
He’s so close to me—close enough that his lips are just a few inches away from mine. I should just step away and break the moment. But I don’t. I don’t know why, but I feel like I am glued to this spot on my deck. I feel like I know him now, and that I’ve known him for a long time. It’s like I’ve seen inside of him. I feel him brush the hair off my forehead and I don’t make a move to stop him. He sweeps his thumb across my brow and I close my eyes for a moment. It feels familiar, even though this is the first time he’s ever touched me so intimately. I never imagined anything like this would ever happen when Hydra moved in. I can’t believe it’s happening now.
“Brenda, I want to thank you for being truthful with me. Nobody’s done that in a long time. And you are absolutely right.”
I try to compose myself, but the warmth of his hand on my cheek is making it hard to stay focused. I need to say something. I clear my throat, my mouth is so dry. “They don’t know who you are,” I say, “like I do right now.” I can’t break the eye contact. They don’t know him like I do? Where the hell did that come from?
I can tell by his facial expression that he isn’t paying attention to what I am saying anymore. Instead, his hand slips through my hair and he cups the back of my neck. Before I realize what’s happening, he leans in toward me and our lips touch. I know I have to say something, but what? I have to do it quick, before something happens that I am going to regret.
“Keith, I…” His hand is back to cupping my cheek. It’s warm; he’s stroking my cheekbone with his fingertips. I close my eyes and tilt my head into his hand; I can feel the pulse from his wrist lightly throb against my jaw. I sense him leaning in closer and before I know it we are deep in a kiss. I feel his tongue slide against mine; I keep my arms frozen at my sides. It is all wrong, but I let his hand slide from my cheek and behind my neck to hold my head in place. His other hand slides behind my back and pulls me closer to him. I can feel his belt buckle press against my stomach and his breath exhaling near my ear. I give in to it all and slide my hands around his waist and up his back. I can feel the lumps from his vertebrae and his shoulder blades under my palms. I trace my hands back down again and grip his t-shirt near the small of his back. I am fighting the urge to pull it up and slip my hands beneath it so I can feel the warmth of his skin.
I don’t know why I am kissing him. But I am. And it’s exhilarating to be doing something and not know why I am doing it. With Keith, I feel that light-headed buzz of a first kiss wash over me while his stubble rubs against my chin and his tongue expertly plays with mine. It’s foreign, yet completely familiar at the same time.
I am so drawn in that I don’t hear the back door slide open. It’s Tim’s voice that brings me back to reality: “Brenda? What the hell is going on?”
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